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Texas Instruments, Beyond Calculators
Written by Dongeon Kevin Lee | Published. 2020.08.04 15:58 | Count : 509

[Photo of the writer’s personal calculator, a product of Texas Instruments.
Photo courtesy of Dongeon Lee]

Almost every high school student today is familiar with the company–“Texas Instruments.”. If you were to look around a math classroom, every student is likely to have a graphing calculator with the “Texas Instruments” brand name printed across the top. Considering the demand for graphing calculators among students today, it is surprising to note that Texas Instruments dominates the majority of the market, if not the entire market. According to NPD, the National Purchase Diary Panel, Texas Instruments accounts for 93 percent of scientific calculator sales in the United States. This feat of Texas Instruments is noteworthy and raises an important question: How did Texas Instruments become the king of the graphing calculator market?

The most popular model from Texas Instruments, the TI-84, and its successor, the TI-84 Plus, have been around for more than a decade now since the model was released in 2004. With only 480 kilobytes of ROM and 24 kilobytes of RAM, the TI-84 line is very outdated technology now, considering the advanced devices on the market today. Despite the old technology, Texas Instruments has managed to maintain its monopoly for the past decade.

As a high school student, I have used the “TI-84 Plus C Silver Edition Graphing Calculator” for around five years. With the superiority of Texas Instruments in the calculator industry, it has become an expectation for most middle and high school, and college students to possess one of these devices. Throughout my entire experience with this company, I have thought of Texas Instruments only as a calculator company. However, calculators are only a small part of it. 

[Texas Instruments’ official website / ‘Products’ page, Photo courtesy of Dongeon Lee]

To discover deeper secrets about this beloved calculator, I visited the Texas Instruments website. Surprisingly, graphing calculators were nowhere to be seen there. The website was filled with microcontrollers and chips instead of graphing calculators, despite the fact that the company has dominated the market for over 10 years. As Texas Instruments is widely known as a company that produces graphing calculators, the absence of graphing calculators on its website was baffling. After scouring the website, I was able to locate the “Calculator” tab, but unfortunately, I was not able to find any secrets about the TI-84 products. To my surprise, even with its immense success in the market, Texas Instruments seemed to focus on other technologies beyond graphing calculators.

[Email received from the Texas Instruments engineer before the video interview.  
Screenshot captured by Dongeun Lee]

As the website seemed to suggest that Texas Instruments was not focused on graphing calculators, I interviewed an engineer– who is currently working at Texas Instruments. Seong Kim, an applications engineer at Texas Instruments, shared some very surprising facts about the company. Initially, around the 1940s, Texas Instruments was a company that “built seismographs for the oil industry” and that business “expanded into military applications,” eventually becoming a defense contractor. Afterwards, Texas Instruments moved on to develop the first transistors, which Song said are “responsible for how integrated circuit chips work.” This marked Texas Instruments’ transition to a semiconductor/integrated circuit chip company. Today, many T-I chips can be found in everyday electronic devices that people have in their homes– including washing machines, Beats by Dre headphones, and Amazon Echo smart speakers. In addition, Texas Instruments creates products that are also used in outer space and in digital cinema.
Moving on to the well-known T-I calculators, Seong Kim’s responses were astonishing. According to him, “In 2019, T.I. generated up to around 14 billion dollars.” Given the magnitude of that number, graphing calculators make up only a fraction of the company’s revenue, leading Seong to explain that “because [calculators] are a small art of our business, they don’t have a huge impact on the success of the company.” The main reason Texas Instruments maintains its educational branch is thus not to increase its revenue, but to utilize it as a marketing strategy for the prosperity of the whole company.
 

[Screenshot of video interview with Seong Kim, engineer at Texas Instruments, Photo courtesy of Dongeon Lee]
[Interviewing Seong Kim, engineer at Texas Instruments®, Photo courtesy of Kevin Kim]

While many people may never know the accomplishments of Texas Instruments beyond its graphing calculators, it is surely surprising how the company has developed technologies far beyond graphing calculators. As for the future goals of Texas Instruments, Seong Kim stated that innovation is what the company values most, so it will do its best to discover the next “big thing” in the technology industry. Despite the success and fame achieved by Texas Instruments calculators, a closer examination of the company reveals that its focus is not centered on graphing calculators, but rather on finding ways to advance the technological industry.

 

 







Dongeon Kevin Lee
Grade 11
Yongsan International School of Seoul

Dongeon Kevin Lee  student_reporter@dherald.com

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